Joe Dumars is a lame duck. Well, not officially, but all signs point to Tom Gores putting his imprint on this team and largely taking control of the team away from Joe Dumars without actually firing him.
It all seems to be a part of Tom Gores' management philosophy: Win now and win later.
That philosophy had shown itself in the player personnel department when he endorsed the signing of Josh Smith and the instant-fit of shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the NBA draft. Now, it appears to be playing out on a team management level. Fire the coach but keep your GM (who also happens to be one of the most popular players in franchise history) and, what? Rebuild? Contend? Stay the course?
Gores seems to be trying to have it both ways. He didn't like the performance of Maurice Cheeks as head coach. Cheeks is gone. It would stand to reason, then, that Joe Dumars, the person primarily responsible for the hiring of Cheeks, would be gone as well. The same Dumars who, not incidentally, was also responsible for now former coaches Larry Brown (fired), Flip Saunders (fired), Michael Curry (fired -- also in his first year) and John Kuester (fired).
Instead, Dumars remains. Far from being an endorsement of Dumars' abilities as an executive, however, it seems much more likely that it is Gores' attempt to respectfully let Dumars walk away from the franchise (or move to a different post with the team) once his contract is up after this season. Gores parting gift to Dumars that prevents the stink of being fired from being a part of Joe's official CV.
This is practically the same line of thinking I made in my piece, The courage of the status quo, where I argued that the Pistons should do ... absolutely nothing. But firing Cheeks isn't nothing. In fact, it's a big ol' something. And it requires Gores to go all the way. No half measures.
After all, Gores made the move to fire Cheeks over Dumars' protestations. Gores seems to have endorsed John Loyer as a season-long interim head coach as opposed to trying to hire a Dumars-approved long-term replacement in Lionel Hollins, who had expressed interest in the team's new coaching vacancy. Gores is in control but Dumars is still here. Win now and win later.
But is that really fair to Dumars? Just as importantly, is it really fair to the team going forward?
In trade negotiations it is always nice to have a little leverage against your trade partner, but Dumars has the opposite of leverage. In fact, he seems completely powerless. If the team has any eyes on getting maximum return for veterans then it should fire Dumars now. To fire Cheeks but keep Dumars on is farcical. Everyone knows that Dumars is no longer in control of this franchise. To make him play out the role embarrasses him and the organization. Especially if the team wants to make any personnel moves between now and the trade deadline.
When your team is this far below .500 with pieces that don't fit and you've fired your head coach, it strikes to reason that the team should be a seller if not outright tank mode. The reasons Cheeks was let go seem to be because Gores believed he was not coaching the team to its fullest potential. So instead, Gores appears content to let this group fight for a playoff spot. Win now and win later.
Or, much more likely, go absolutely nowhere and miss out on the chance to improve the future of the franchise by shipping off assets that are not part of the future for picks, and play poorly enough to secure a high draft pick in a stacked draft.
There are still more questions than answers in Detroit. Is the team a buyer or seller? Is John Loyer an improvement at head coach that can get this team playing defense and over the hump? Will the team now fully commit to Greg Monroe as part of the organizations future? The next couple weeks should shed some light on these issues and more.
But by not committing all the way to doing what needs to be done, Gores is needlessly clouding the future success of this franchise. The truth is, with this roster and this organization you can't win now and win later.